by Sarah Pennington
One could say that “Weave a Circle Round,” the debut novel of Canadian author Kari Maaren, is about many things. It’s about Freddy Duchamp, who’s trying to be normal though life has other plans for her. It’s about Roland, Freddy’s deaf and geeky stepbrother, and Mel, her genius detective little sister. It’s about Cuerva Lachance and Josiah, Freddy’s new neighbors who produce impossibilities wherever they go. It’s about Freddy’s long journey home after she’s transported a thousand years into the past. It’s about her hunt for answers to why her neighbors are strangely interested in her siblings. It’s about family and friendship; change and choices; mixed together with adventures and wonder and mysteries.
Most of all, however, “Weave a Circle Round” is a story about stories, those you write for yourself and those others write for you, and how you choose to interact with them. Readers will note throughout the book how characters’ lives are subtly but inextricably intertwined with the stories they and others tell about themselves, some more literally than others. The choice these characters must face is: do they control their stories? Or will they allow their stories to control them?
In telling this story-of-stories, Maaren draws on the mythology and literature of many ages past. Astute readers will find references to everything from Norse and Japanese mythology to French fairytales to Romantic-era English poetry. In addition, the characters and their interactions, particularly those Cuerva Lachance and Josiah, echo the conflict felt in the literature and thought of every age since the dawn of time, that of reason, or order, and feeling, or chaos. This latter conflict proves as significant a theme as that which has been previously noted, and is felt much more strongly.
However, even readers less familiar with the referenced materials and ideas will be hooked by the plot, which is as mind-bending and filled with potential paradoxes and mysteries as any good time-travel novel ought to be, with an ending that makes one want to go back to the beginning and start reading again to find all the clues one missed. While its pace is a little slower than that of many modern fantasy novels, particularly at the beginning, it never stalls and wastes no time on meaningless fluff. Everything has a purpose, and even the most commonplace items and interactions may prove vital in the end. In addition, Maaren both utilizes common tropes and turns those tropes on their head, meaning that even what would normally be familiar ground holds wonderful surprises for the reader.
In addition, the book’s cast of colorful and quirky characters make it a delight to read. Cuerva Lachance in particular is a source of frequent amusement, even as she’s also thoroughly enigmatic, sometimes irritating, and occasionally frightening. Josiah is equally mysterious, though a bit more accessible to the reader. And Freddy, for her part, is a thoroughly relatable heroine, whose personal struggles to face her future, figure out who she is, and come to terms with her family will be real to many readers.
In conclusion, “Weave a Circle Round” is a uniquely wonderful story that balances serious questions of life with humor and adventure. Its brilliant cast of characters and delightfully mind-bending plot is sure to draw readers back in again and again. Kari Maaren has, thus far, not announced any plans for a sequel or other works, but those who enjoy her storytelling style can experience it again in her two webcomics, “West of Bathurst” (completed) and “It Never Rains” (ongoing).
Sarah Pennington is a sophomore Professional Writing and Information Design major and an Arts and Entertainment reporter for Cedars. She loves chai tea and dragons and is perpetually either reading or writing a book.